In order to help individuals having different propensities and qualifications, the great sage Vyasadeva, the compiler of Vedas, suggested various means of achieving transcendental realization. Thus he described karma-kanda activities (like donating food, clothes, medicines, performing rituals etc.), speculative knowledge (scrutinizing study of the Upanisads), mystic powers (hatha-yoga), and finally pure devotional service (bhakti). In various Puranas he recommended worship of different demigods.
To many people Hinduism’s strength lies in its emphasis on choosing ANY particular deity of your choice there is no coercion. This contrasts with other faiths, who feel that their religion is monotheistic while Hinduism is polytheistic. This puts Hinduism in the same category as some ancient form of paganism.
Is this true?
Just take the case of the newly elected government in India. There are many ministers (too many, according to some political pundits), but there is only ONE Prime Minister. In fact because he is alone he can be called ‘Prime’. Also, all corporations have a CEO (Chief Executive Officer), and if we can compare a country or a company with the cosmos we can safely deduce that the cosmos too requires systematic management. So how is it possible to have that kind of management if every manager is the BOSS? Obviously some managers are extremely powerful personalities but nonetheless they obey the command of their superior.
Srimad-Bhagavatam explains the position of the multifarious demigods and the Supreme Personality of Godhead with the analogy of the root and the tree, or the stomach and the other limbs of the body. We do not water all the individual parts of the tree but simply pour water on the root. Similarly we only feed the stomach and do not worry about nutrition reaching other parts of the body.
A frequently asked question goes like this: Isn’t it true that when someone worships the demigods he also worships Krishna, the Supreme Lord? And there is no need for any seperate worship of the Supreme.
Well, although it is not untrue, this kind of worship is called avidhi-purvakam or worship performed in a wrong way, according to the Bhagavad-gita. It is almost like bribing a doorman to enter the room of a great person. These demigods display a fraction of Lord Krishna’s opulence, but ultimately He is much more than any of His creations.
Lord Krishna clearly wants all of us to surrender to Him alone. Krishna derides demigod worship, and He says, in effect, that trying to satisfy material desires by worshiping the demigods or by any other method is like pouring fuel on fire. Sensual gratification is not the path of liberation but the path of bondage.
Although we are indebted to the demigods for the necessities of life they provide, the demigods are never independent of Lord Krishna in supplying these necessities. We can pay our debts to them by worshiping Lord Krishna, as He requests.
Since we can get the highest knowledge from the Gita, why should we cling to a lower level of knowledge? From the Gita we learn that full satisfaction material and spiritual comes from worshiping Lord Krishna. Why should we turn to the demigods?
Besides, worshiping Krishna is easier than worshiping the demigods. Especially in the present age, by the mercy of Lord Krishna’s incarnation as Sri Caitanaya Mahaprabhu, we don’t need any prior spiritual qualifications to begin practicing bhakti-yoga and thereby attain Krishna. We simply have to chant the holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Because chanting connects us with Krishna, the reservoir of all pleasure, it will satisfy all our desires and awaken our original love for Krishna.
Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.7.6) gives the complete understanding of demigod worship through the sterling example of Maharaja Bharata: “After performing the preliminaries of various sacrifices, Maharaja Bharata offered the results in the name of religion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva…Maharaja Bharata expertly understood how the offering made to different demigods was simply an offering to the different limbs of the Lord. For instance, Indra is the arm of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Surya [the sun] is His eye. Thus Maharaja Bharata considered that the oblations offered to different demigods were actually offered unto the different limbs of Lord Vasudeva.”
Srila Prabhupada further illusrates in the purport to this verse: “All the demigods are different parts of the Lord, and if we offer service to them, we actually serve the Lord Himself…We should worship the demigods in that spirit. Because the goddess Durga satisfies Krishna, we should therefore offer respects to goddess Durga. Because Lord Shiva is nothing but Krishna’s functional body, we should therefore offer respects to Lord Shiva. Similarly, we should offer respects to Brahma, Agni, and Surya.”
To conclude, Hinduism (or Vedic Sanatana Dharma) is not polytheistic (all forms of God are equal), nor is it narrow-minded (my way or the high-way), but it requires knowledge coming down in parampara to understand this issue.
Else you may end up having to worship more than 9,00,000 forms everyday, to finish worshiping 33 crores demigods in one year!?